Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Hessel Park, Champaign; Video Feature

As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and more like August or September 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at


Hessel Park 


1400 Dr. Grandview, Champaign

the hessel park sign

Photo by Tim Bailey. 


I am going to immediately point you to to TJ Blakeman’s magnificent research and column about Hessel Park. I mean, if you are reading this, and you have any interest in actually learning about the history of Hessel Park, oh boy oh boy are you in for a treat: 



Hessel Park has so much to offer. First and foremost, it has the most perfect walking loop of any park around, and I am including Meadowbrook in this regard. This is a perfect neverending loop, and if you have ever eaten some window pane g5 and simply kept walking, you will understand what I mean. It is perfect in that it is infinite; you have to choose to leave. 

a large children's playground orange and green

Photo by Tim Bailey.

But the splash pad and playground is amazing too! Wait, are. That sentence needs are, not is. Right? I am actually not sure at this hour. The splash pad and playground are amazing too. That is better. That is correct. I think. Sorry!

Genuinely, the kiddos who live in my home and continually make it impossible to feel fully human ask to come to this park all the time because of the fact that they just don’t get bored in it immediately. That is worth more than I can type here. 

A splash pad in a park

Photo by Tim Bailey. 

But there’s also the tennis courts and the pickle ball courts! These are the finest in town, really, and that is why lessons take place here, both private and public. Did you know that I am not a bad tennis player? I mean, I’ve got junkyard strokes, and I am inconsistent as all hell, and I do not play often enough, but as an athlete, I can play. Maybe I should play more? Maybe I should just challenge some tennis players in my life until I win? Maybe I will! 

Photo by Tim Bailey. 

Another amazing thing about Hessel is the Pavilion and the big massive grove that it overlooks to the south. It is one of my very favorite places to have lunch in town.

I once sat down with a higher up at the Champaign Park District and proposed the idea of making the pavilion into a public WiFi cafe and to have them engage a local coffee seller — could be anyone really  — to hire them as a partner to sell coffee and pastries or whatever to people here. Then, they could have kids paint the picnic tables through the guidance of the art program at Unit 4. But it never happened. But maybe it still might? What a local draw that would be!

Hey, honey, let’s go drink coffee and rip out a few insignificant emails at the park at the table our son painted? Hey Grammy, meet me for coffee to see this thing your granddaughter did!


Anyhow, here is the big grove that the pavilion overlooks. It’s a perfect place for all sorts of great activities. Go play catch here, or put together a 7-on-7 football game and sneak some ponies of Lite in a cooler for a halftime / post-game refresher, y’hear? Or Gatorade. 

a huge open field in a park

Photo by Tim Bailey. 


There is something to be said for a park that sort of has it all. Hessel Park is that park in Champaign. It is being utilized to its fullest expression? No it isn’t, but that does not mean it is not an amazing park in its own rite, given the current directive of the Champaign Park District. There is so much to enjoy and celebrate from the work the CPD does that it is hard to feel anything but grateful at times. I certainly feel grateful for Hessel Park, and the visionary who helped make it happen, and the countless people who followed through with a piece of that initial ideation that have brought it to its current glory.

If John Frederic Hessel was a dreamer. There doesn’t seem to be many dreamers on board these days. That’s sad. We need dreamers, my friends. What good is living if we don’t challenge ourselves to live in a more robust and comprehensive way?

Moving on: Hessel Park is the best park in Champaign, and honestly, it is the most inviting park in all of the combined cities in a lot of ways. It’s location is part of that, but its amenities are what ultimately grants it that particular place in our culture, in my view. 

It’s missing some things, as I wrote about above, but by and large, it is a knock out park, and one that you deserve to go be in week in and week out, especially during the warm weather months. 

Top image by Tim Bailey. 

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